When Daniel Leal was a sophomore at UF, he was broke. He supported himself and so did his roommate, Moe. 

On a Tuesday night in, they brainstormed something they could do instead of dwelling on the fact that they didn't have enough money to go out. They decided to bake chocolate chip cookies and sell them to their neighbors.

"We didn't want to look sketchy, so we made up a company and typed out an improvised flyer," Leal said. "We put our phone numbers on there and called it 'Cookiegazm.'"

Thirty minutes after handing out flyers to their neighbors, Leal and Moe received a call from a group of girls who wanted cookies. They put the cookies on a a paper plate and made a handwritten receipt. Leal even asked his girlfriend to deliver the cookies so it was less "sketchy."

That was the first Cookiegazm sale.

Leal then told his fraternity brothers that he was selling cookies straight to their bedroom doors, and the next day, 30 of them ordered cookies.

"That was the most stressful night of my life. We were late, and I'm sure we screwed up some of the orders, but this was the night my roommate and I realized this had business potential," he said.

He and Moe kept selling cookies almost every night until the end of that semester; they sacrificed their grades, social life and night life.

In the beginning of the next semester, Leal took a passive approach to his business. He wasn't actively selling cookies because of classes, and he needed to find a bigger kitchen.

Randi Ziegler

By this time, Moe had already told Leal he couldn't continue with the business because he needed to focus on school, and Leal wondered if he should be doing the same. 

But, one day, Leal was sitting in class when he received a call from his mom. He answered the phone to his parents crying.

They told him they lost their house to foreclosure. 

"I knew things were bad at home, but I didn't know they were that bad," he said. "This was my sign to be proactive about the business."

Without thinking, Leal ran to the financial aid office and took out his first student loan. 

He used most of that money to get the business started. He registered the company, made a crappy logo in Photoshop, and went to every mom-and-pop shop nearby to find a kitchen where he could make the cookies.

After going in and out of different kitchens as the business began to grow, Leal went through a rollercoaster of emotions during the next few months.

Leal realized he couldn't juggle the whole business operations on his own, though, and that's where his new partner, Abraham, came in. They started working 100+ hours every week. They swept the floors, made the cookies, delivered them, and did customer service all on their own. 

Cookiegazm outgrew yet another kitchen, so they were on the hunt again to find an even bigger kitchen.

"We found Omi, who had a catering company. She had a huge kitchen with everything we needed, and she was incredible from day one," Leal said. "She understood what we were trying to do, and even without knowing us, she was extremely supportive of what we were doing."

Leilani Barber

Omi had a full running restaurant, and Leal said it was amazing that they were able to grow their own company from there. For almost a whole year, they were juggling a lot, and they usually only slept about 3-4 hours a night.

"It took a toll on us physically and emotionally," Leal said. 

Since the first night he started selling cookies, his goal was to see a Cookiegazm storefront running out of Gainesville. His parents and friends weren't fond of the idea but only because they were looking out for his best interest.

"I wanted to prove everyone wrong and prove myself right. My main motivator was to help my parents, and that legitimized this," he said. "I felt a responsibility without them asking. I took it upon myself to do something to help my parents."

Though they were still operating out of Omi's, the guys speculated Cookiegazm sales would grow a lot like they did the year before, so with enough funding, they decided to look for the store Leal had been dreaming of. 

"To get that store, we went through eight different locations that we bid on. Failure after failure, we didn't give up on finding the location we would fall in love with," he said.

Leal knew they would eventually find a place, and in July of 2017, they found the building where they're currently located.

"My girlfriend has been supportive since day one, and it was her idea to drive around one day and look for places," he said. One day, he found a "for lease" sign at the place he had his eye on for awhile.

"I ran two stop signs and started dialing the realtor in the parking lot. We received capitol backup from an investor, and in a few weeks we closed the deal, and I received the keys to the building," he said.

Randi Ziegler

Leal said it was "unreal" to finally see Cookiegazm have its own store. And, as anticipated, sales tripled when they moved to their current location.

Leal encourages anyone with an idea to execute it. Although, it's important to have a realistic perspective of what a business entails.

"Starting a business and having it succeed is a hard thing to do. Persistence and focus are the two key factors that will drive someone to success," he said.

Leal surpassed his expectations for the company, but what really counted for him was the experience. "It's not just about the making. You're personally growing, you're learning how to interact with people and you have to make tough decisions," Leal said. "It's an extremely humbling experience."

His advice for blooming entrepreneurs? You can't be afraid to make mistakes, because you'll learn from them. 

He believes that everyone should go for that silly idea in the back of their mind, trust their gut feeling, and step out of their comfort zone. With that said, it's important to keep in mind all of the obstacles that come along with a business start-up.

Leal is excited to be in the process of working on fresh, new cookie flavors and more complimentary items. Something to look out for: Cookiegazm may or may not introduce a variety of ice cream flavors in the future so people can mix and match cookies with ice cream!

In terms of the brand, he said they definitely want to "spread the gazm."

"We don't want to limit ourselves to the UF campus. We want to spread ourselves to every college campus, which we are still trying to figure out," he said.